Life, Liberty and Freedom

With the passing of the 4th of July, we commemorate the signing of the Declaration of Independence (from Britain). Our founding fathers wrote the famous phrase,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

As the country continued to develop and clarify the laws and rights by which we were to live by the first ammendment was developed that part of liberty was the freedom was that

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is thanks to these documents of the early development of our country that America is one of a kind and in many ways one of the most free contries in the world.

A friend once shared an encounter with a man from Iraq in 2004. He and his wife and daughters had come to America to pursue a better life. He had no job, no money and was living on the streets. In the face of all of his plights, he said that he was still joyful and greatful to be in America. That America was still better than Iraq. Because in America, he had his freedom. This man had lived under such persecution, that being free and homeless was still better than living in bondage with a home.

With great freedom, however, there seems to be a great amount of pride, self-entitlement and superiority. We find it easy to look down upon other cultures and religion if we believe they do not have the same freedom we have. It becomes easy to believe that our way of life is the only way of truly living. It becomes easy to be defiant against anything that imposes on what we personally believe to be freedom.

Amongst these things, religion is hit the hardest.

I would also argue that unfortunately, most persecuted and most silently damaged of these religions is the Christian faith. We are persecuted in our practices and beliefs, and then our persecutions are made silent by the mask of humor and ridicule.

How is the church is persecuted in our American society in the name of freedom? Our country promised us a life where our freedom of religion is able to be expressed. In today’s society, instead of a respect for practices, we see that in the event of conflict the party who claims truth must be silenced in the name of “tolerance” In so doing, we lose the very concept of truth. In so doing, truth becomes relative. If truth is relative, it cannot be a real truth.

Where are these truths questioned? Truth is questioned in our relationships, our marriages, and family development. These truths are part of defining who we are, how we relate to others, and what we believe is part of salvation. These truths have been attacked more and more ardently as time progresses and we as Christians have let ourselves become more and more bound by the serpent of secularism.

As Orthodox Christians, we should know the church’s position on homosexuality. No matter the cause, drive towards the emotion, or personal history, homosexuality is a sin. It is a perversion of God’s intentions for us; just as over-eating, loving a person more than God, or using our creative nature to cause destruction is also a perversion of that which is good and Holy. The only aspect of the sin that could make it considered as more  detrimental to an individual is the fact that the sin involves the fall of two souls, not just one.

Yet society tells us that if we voice these opinions we are intolerant of an “alternative lifestyle” This line of “right and wrong” is not allowed to be considered wrong because many churches, as a whole, believe this is wrong.

I’m sure it is conceivable that if only the church viewed murder as wrong, surely we could allow human sacrifice in our country! But unfortunately the church is viewed as old, stagnant and intolerate. Most unfotunate is the fact that because certain religious groups are so vocal as to make statements such as “the homosexual will burn in hell” without any expression of true Christian love, and the hope of salvation through repentance, and the abundant mercy of the Lord, ALL Christians get labeled as intolerant. This meme was floating around facebook for a while. I wonder if this person recalled the story of when Christ was flipping tables over in the temple.

As Orthodox Christians we should be vocal about our stance on the matter. Firstly, we believe homosexuality is a sin, just like any other sin is a sin. We believe in condemning the sin, not the sinner. We do not believe that the actions of a person define inherent characteristics about that person which are not in line with becoming an image of Christ. Any sin does not define a person for the rest of their lives. If a person defines themselves by their sin, then they have passed their own judgement that God is incapable of forgiving that sin. None of these should be perceived as intolerant, but rather that we aknowledge the fallen world we live in and rely on the never-ending mercy and forgiveness of the Father.

The more “normal” homosexuality becomes in our society, the more silent we become in our defense against it. Rather, we need to continue to be vocal, and educate our youth on the matter so there is no gray area for them or for any member of our church. What a force we would be if all Christians were resolute on the same truths.

Another example in which our values are being persecuted is with the health care mandate. By demanding at all organizations financially fund means for contraception, the government has created a law which is restricting an organizations religious freedom. These religious organizations are called on by society to see how this is helpful for women in the country, and yet the law is asking an organization to provide one of the very things their religion may protest. Our freedom to practice the Christian faith is being encroached upon, and unless we stand united to demand that this is unacceptable we will continue to lose that freedom.

In an election year when emotions run high and debates are heated, it is difficult to feel that any candidate could ever possibly represent our Christian morals. Rather than Republican or Democrat we long for a leader or a group which is moral. We feel the need to make our decision based on the “lesser of two evils” or perhaps wish to not bother with goverment at all. In Hebrews 13:17 St. Paul writes,

“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you”

in St John Chrysostom’s sermon on this reading he says about the ruler we may view as evil,

“Wicked? In what sense? If indeed in regard to Faith, flee and avoid him.”

Chrysostom goes on to explain that although we should not be overly concerned with a ruler’s personal life choices, we should definitely be concerned if that ruler is forcing us to do something against our faith. Chrysostom goes so far as to say to flee that person. If we have a leader who is blatantly attacking our worship and Christian way of life, we cannot remain silent on the matter. We must be knowledgeable on our position and firm in our conviction.

Why then, is Christianity persecuted in a seemingly silent manner? The answer is of course, that many of the persecutions some with a smile and a chuckle. In the name of tolerance and political correctness, any joke about someone who is gay, black, jewish, muslim is instantly slammed. Christian jokes get no such subjugation. Catholic priests are always chasing after young boys, choir members are always blatantly annoying characters, and any other Christian character is either completely naive about the world, or better than anyone else around them. By making a joke about every attribute and every angle of Christianity we devalue the morals that it stands for. When we laugh along with the jokes as Christians, we are validating that our faith is not important enough to stand up for.

We live in a country which is free enough to let us worship without fear of death, but we do not live in a country which is granting us the freedom to truly live our faith. Our leadership is now working to create laws which directly impose on our religious freedoms and we have an obligation to stand up for our faith, and perhaps demand the religious freedom that our forefathers established for us over 200 years ago. We will be persecuted, but we know that our lives are not in question. If we do not stand up for out rights, however, our souls may be in question when we are called upon at the last judgement.